CM . . .
. Volume XII Number 2 . . . . September 16, 2005
Alia Muhammad Baker is the librarian in Basra, Iraq.
This true story is a moving tale of one librarian’s attempts to save the beloved books in her library as war becomes imminent.
As the battle begins and the city is “lit with a firestorm of bombs and gunfire,” Alia and her friends manage to move thousands of books to a nearby restaurant. Nine days later, the library burns to the ground. As the war moves on, Alia knows that, if the books are to be safe, they must be moved again. In all, 30,000 books are moved to her home and those of her friends.
As the story ends, Alia waits for war to end and for peace return to her country. She dreams of a new library.
Jeanette Winter has written a picture book that deals effectively with war and its impact on everyday life. “It puts a human face on war and maybe breaks down the idea of ‘otherness,’” says Winter. The book is also a testament to one librarian’s love of books, something with which kids can readily identify. With the use of simple, evocative text, Winter does an excellent job of making this true story personal, specific and accessible to children.
The accompanying illustrations are acrylic and pen on watercolour paper, beautifully crafted by the author. The subtle use of colour evokes a feeling of peace and harmony. The war intrudes with bright splotches of orange giving impact and reality to the scene. The simple line of the illustrations speaks to the reader and infuses the story with life.
Picture books sometimes offer a gentle way of handling difficult subject matter. This book has been promoted as an exceptional point of discussion for children with concerns and questions about the war in Iraq. This purpose holds true more for Americans as the war is a significant part of their daily lives with family and friends actively involved. In Canada, however, exposure is limited for this age group, and so the focus may be a discussion of the difference one person can make in the lives of many and of one person’s love for and recognition of the power of books.
Rosemary Hollett is the librarian at St. Emile School in Winnipeg, MB.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.